Microsoft gave developers their first hands-on experience with the upcoming Windows 7 operating system (OS) Tuesday.
Set for release in 2010, the version of Windows 7 shown at the company’s Professional Developers Conference refines certain aspects of the company’s Windows Vista OS and is designed to improve on performance.
“The best way to think of Windows 7 is to look at it as an improved version of Windows Vista. It starts with a Windows Vista foundation, but what it does from there is add some extra functionality. There are some good usability features they have added that, no matter how you cut it, are good stuff. In that respect it’s a step forward for customers and should help improve adoption,” said Al Gillen, an IDC analyst, told TechNewsWorld.
Microsoft’s pre-beta preview included a look at several key changes to some familiar Windows features emphasizing functionality and efficiency.
The software maker has revamped the Task Bar, Jump Menus and the System Tray. In the new OS, the new Task Bar throws out the wordy interface introduced in Windows 95 and replaces it with extra-large icons for each application running on the PC.
In addition, the OS augments the preview feature debuted in Windows Vista, wherein users could view thumbnail-sized representations of open application and browser windows. The problem was that users with multiple windows opened in the same application or browser were visible only one at a time. In Windows 7, the function displays multiple thumbnail previews together. Rolling over a preview will trigger a full-sized preview.
The new System Tray includes tools that allow users to choose whether to display or hide an icon as well as notifications about that program. Users looking for the Windows Gadget Sidebar will find that the applets now reside on the desktop itself.
Clicking on an icon in the Taskbar or an application in the Start menu immediately triggers a jump list. Similar to the menus Windows users have seen for years, these offer single-click access to key features and recent documents.
“What Microsoft has done is they have gone back and given users more flexibility in how they can interface with them and use them. Users can rearrange the icons on their Taskbar. You can get rid of the annoying pop ups in the System Tray. One of things I like best is the ability to preview your open windows,” said Gillen.
‘Not the Boss of Me’ Features
Microsoft has also done some work on Vista’s much-maligned User Account Control (UAC). In Vista, the UAC chimes in whenever a user tries to alter almost anything on the machine. Want to install an add-on or alter an application? The UAC pops up to ensure that users want to perform the requested action.
In Windows 7, the UAC has been refined to allow users to select varying degrees of control. They will be able to choose to be notified only when installing new software or change the settings on a program; when an application’s settings are altered; for any changes; or no notification at all.
The new AppLocker puts the brakes on any user being able to perform any task. The feature enables businesses to write local and group policies that will restrict what that machine can and cannot do.
“You can take AppLocker and write a policy that says you will not be able to install an application irrespective of your privileges, and on that basis you could restrict an end-user from putting something on the system that you don’t want them to put on.”
Microsoft has also tried to address some of the installation blockers that resulted in incompatibility issues with some programs, said Gillen.
“Applications can install more predictably on Windows 7,” he said.
In addition, Microsoft has made BitLocker, introduced in Vista, available for USB sticks. “Before, it was only a C drive technology,” Gillen added.
Judging the relative merits of an operating system this early in the process is difficult, said Gary Chen, principal analyst at McChen Research.
“It is so early, and things are going to evolve a lot before the final release. But it is definitely going to be an important release, as the XP holdouts are going to have to upgrade to Windows 7. You might have been able to skip one Windows generation, but two is simply too long,” he told TechNewsWorld.
To get businesses on board, Chen said, Microsoft will have to “come out with a lean, resource-friendly version for the emerging netbook market.”
“Vista was too heavy for these machines, and XP or Linux is currently the main choices for these machines. Also, as desktop virtualization catches on, we may also see more demand for thinner clients there as well,” he pointed out.
Getting factors like the UAC’s role and compatibility functions right will be necessary if Microsoft wants to see a positive market reception. The UAC, according to Chen, was “too chatty.” Letting users “turn down the chattiness in Windows 7” will ease that annoyance. Microsoft has also indicated that it will maintain driver and application compatibility with Windows 7.
“That was a big stumbling block with the XP-Vista transition. By the time Windows 7 comes out, the compatibility situation will have more than enough time to get settled, as drivers and apps will all be ready by then,” Chen noted.
Questions that remain unanswered concern the movement of some applications to Microsoft’s Live platform and what the software maker has in store in terms of virtualization.
“The issues will be which apps are moved, which aren’t, and what the experience will be like. Also, how dependent on an Internet connection will it be? Will these apps be able to work offline? Will being online add new innovative features that weren’t available before? Will Microsoft integrate a hypervisor into Windows 7?” he queried.
Windows 7 is not a substantial overhaul — the changes are fairly incremental, explained Gillen.
“They’ve gone back and replaced or fixed individual features,” he concluded.